A writ of garnishment is an order requiring a third-party to withhold some type of property (usually money) of the defendant’s (also called the “garnishee" or “judgment debtor,") for delivery to a creditor to whom they owe an overdue debt.
Sometimes referred to as garnishment orders, writs of garnishment are often used by creditors to withhold a portion of a debtor’s wages to pay their delinquent debts. Most commonly, this tactic is employed by creditors such as banks and credit card companies, but it’s also frequently used by child support enforcement agencies to collect past-due child support payments. This process is referred to as wage garnishment (and yes, we talk all about wage garnishment here). Wage garnishment laws concerning what type of debt can be garnished for, and garnishment limits, can vary by state.
In most cases, a court order is required for a writ of garnishment to be issued. However, the federal government can employ an “administrative wage garnishment," and is able to issue a wage garnishment order for past-due government debts (such as taxes or federally-backed student loans) without going through the court.
The exact terms of a writ of garnishment will be specified in the order. Most garnishment orders are ongoing (until the debt is fully paid,) although some may be one-time only, or list an end date.
Although in some states, garnishment is referred to as an “attachment," a “Writ of Attachment" generally refers to the seizure of personal property (not money) to repay a debt. These are generally issued to law enforcement personnel, who will then recover the asset.
What Should I do if I Receive a Writ of Garnishment?
If you’re an employer who’s received a writ of garnishment for an employee, you’re required by law to comply. The only exception would be if the garnishment order was sent to you in error, and the person named in the error is not a current employee (if this happens, you should contact the issuing agency as soon as possible to notify them of this.)
The writ of garnishment will include a response form as well as a garnishment calculation worksheet. It’s important that the garnishment is calculated and applied correctly. A copy of a writ of garnishment is required to be sent to the employee, but it shouldn’t be the first they’ve heard of the debt, as the creditor is required to attempt to collect the debt before seeing a wage garnishment. They have a set amount of time (which varies by state), to dispute the debt.
If you’re an employee who’s received a copy of a writ of garnishment that was sent to your employer, keep in mind that your employer is legally not able to negotiate the terms of the wage garnishment. It may be possible to stop the garnishment by contacting the creditor directly to make payment arrangements, but ideally, this should be done before a judgment is issued. Any questions regarding your rights or the wage garnishment process should be referred to a qualified attorney, as they are the ones best suited to help in this situation.